SUFFERERS of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma will have to continue to pay more than $6000 for each life-saving treatment with the drug Keytruda, despite it being listed on the PBS for patients with advanced lung cancer.
Keytruda, an immunotherapy medicine that works with a patient’s own immune system to recognise cancer cells and destroy them, was originally listed in the PBS for people diagnosed with melanoma and has now just been made available for patients with advanced lung cancer, but not for those people with mesothelioma.
Oncologists are prescribing the drug for the asbestos-related cancer but sufferers must pay more than $6000 a treatment compared to $40 a script if it was listed on the PBS.
A failure to give mesothelioma sufferers access to this immunotherapy medicine risked creating two classes of patients, Trevor Torrens general manager of the Asbestos Disease Support Society said.
“Mesothelioma is a devastating disease caused by exposure to asbestos which is still impacting the community.
“Keytruda is providing positive outcomes for many of our members who suffer from this disease, but at sometimes crippling cost.
“Unfortunately, mesothelioma seems to be one of the forgotten cancers. The Society is now calling on the federal government to show some compassion and subsidise Keytruda for sufferers of mesothelioma.”
There are close to 700 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year in Australia, with the peak still to be reached. People most likely to have been exposed to asbestos at work include, asbestos cement manufacturing workers, laggers and insulators, builders, plumbers and electricians, automotive industry workers, mechanics, transport workers and textile workers.
Phil Blair, ADSS chairman , said: “Just this year alone, more than 60 of our members have succumbed to an asbestos related disease, predominantly mesothelioma. All they did was turn up to work to earn a living or just went about their daily lives.
“It’s bad enough dealing with the devastating medical and emotional consequences of mesothelioma, but to also have to pay thousands of dollars for treatment is not fair.”
Mesothelioma is an incurable and extremely painful malignancy of the outer lining of the lung or the abdominal cavity that forms as a result of exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibres.
Asbestos fibres are around 200 times thinner than a human hair, can be invisible and be inhaled easily. They can become trapped deep in the lungs and cause damage over a long time.
Past exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. It can take many years for mesothelioma to develop after a person is exposed to asbestos.